A jury in the United States has begun deliberating on whether three white men are guilty of murder in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was fatally shot while running through a mostly white neighbourhood last year.
The 12-member jury in Brunswick, Georgia began deliberations on Tuesday, after a 13-day trial during which more than two dozen witnesses testified.
Travis McMichael, 35, the only defendant to take the witness stand during the proceedings, said he fired his shotgun into Arbery in self-defence.
McMichael; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for Arbery’s killing in the coastal suburb of Satilla Shores on February 23, 2020.
Arbery’s killing became part of a larger reckoning on racial injustice in the US after a graphic video of his death leaked online two months later. An avid jogger, he was running through a neighbourhood in Brunswick, a coastal community 480km (300 miles) southeast of Atlanta, when he was chased by the defendants and fatally shot.
The jury deliberations begin just days after a separate jury in the state of Wisconsin acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges related to a deadly shooting of racial justice protesters last year in Kenosha. Rittenhouse, who claimed self-defence, killed two demonstrators and wounded a third.
Both trials have underscored divisions among Americans over guns, racism and vigilantism.
On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley instructed the jury of 11 white men and women and one Black man in the law governing the Arbery case after lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski delivered a final, two-hour rebuttal to defence lawyers’ closing arguments.
Dunikoski asked the jurors to find all three defendants guilty of all the charges and argued the defence was seeking to blame the 25-year-old Arbery for his own death.
“Standard stuff: malign the victim, it’s the victim’s fault,” Dunikoski told the jury. “I know you’re not going to buy into that. It’s offensive.”
The lawyers for the accused had argued fiercely over how the judge would explain the citizen’s-arrest law at the heart of the defence. They objected repeatedly on Tuesday to what they said was an incorrect explanation of the law by the prosecution.
Walmsley told the jury that someone can make a citizen’s arrest of a person only if a crime has occurred “in his presence or within his immediate knowledge”.
The judge said such a warrantless arrest must occur “immediately after the perpetration of the offence or, in the case of felonies, during escape”. If the person fails to make the arrest immediately after the crime is committed, or during the escape if the crime is a felony, then “his power to do is extinguished”, the judge said.
The defence has argued that the defendants had a right and a neighbourly obligation to jump in their pick-up trucks and chase Arbery to detain him under the law because they had reason to believe he may have been connected to previous property crimes that had left the neighbourhood on edge.
The law was repealed after Bryan’s mobile phone video of the shooting caused outrage.
No evidence ever emerged that Arbery ever stole anything on his frequent runs through Satilla Shores. He was killed with nothing on him besides his jogging clothes and sneakers.